CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dustin Garrison churned his cleats and squeezed through the defense for an 8-yard touchdown run.
A series later he did it again from 9 yards out, barreling through safety Rickey Rumph at the goal line.
Anyone presuming Saturday was just another in a series of spring practices should have tried tackling Garrison.
“He competed—stick your nose in there and go hard,” said West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider.
Dreamius Smith, Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood may look like the best bets to lead the backfield charge next fall, but with every yard Garrison piled up after contact, the redshirt junior showed he’s not to be discounted.
Weighing only 180, Garrison is around 40 pounds lighter than Smith and Shell. Slowed by a knee injury in 2012 and a hamstring pull last season, he didn’t possess the same flash he did as a breakout freshman with 724 yards. Yet as the Mountaineers scrimmaged Saturday at Laidley Field, Garrison seemed healthy, hungry and hard to stop.
“Blocking-wise,I think I’m just as good as Dreamius or any of the bigger backs. And running-wise I think I’m just as fast as Wendell,” he said. “Those injuries (the past two years) nicked me up a little bit, but I have no complaints and my body’s feel in good. I feel like I did when I was a freshman.”
Along with his two touchdown runs, Garrison moved the pile after catching a screen pass, showing plenty of leg strength while surging past the first-down marker. It was the kind of finishing flurry Seider wants his backs to exhibit at the end of every play.
If there was a clue that Garrison was amped for a productive day, it came before the scrimmage as WVU got pads popping during a session of Oklahoma drills. The slender running back found himself matched up against 230-pound linebacker Brandon Golson.
“Those linebackers talk a lot of smack,” said Garrison, “and for me being one of the smaller guys, they don’t want to go against me.”
Golson saw the matchup and told Garrison, “Nah, you’ve got to get out.” To which Garrison replied, “I’m not getting out.”
Though Golson said he wanted to face 256-pound Cody Clay, Garrison stood his ground and said “You’ve got me.”
Then the running back laid into the linebacker, sending their teammates into helmet-slapping hysterics.
“We went heads up and I think he thought I was going to be scared of him, but that’s not going to happen,” Garrison said. “I got the best of him.”
Seider praised that moment as one that showed a progression of toughness.
“The last two times we had Oklahomas we really took it to the linebackers,” he said. “We beat our chests on that, because that was something we were bad at last year. They would have killed us last year.
“Seeing those guys step up and striking, it goes back to what we want to improve o this spring: the fundamentals side and blocking.”
Dreamius Smith, trying to power through a cluster of defenders at the goal line, was popped by safeties Karl Joseph and Jeremy Tyler and dropped the football. The senior running back also left with an apparent left shoulder injury and did not return to action.
“He’ll be all right. He said he’s fine,” Seider said after practice.
“That was the best run Dreamius had, the one at the goal line. His pads were low and he accelerated through the hole, but he just got hit from the right and left.”